This article discusses a new tool that can be used to map the benefits of nature in cities. Natural infrastructure such as parks, forests, street trees, green roofs, and coastal vegetation is central to sustainable urban management. Cities are uniquely positioned to foster a transition to a more sustainable world. Investing in nature in cities is an important component of making cities more resilient to such challenges. Natural infrastructure is defined as the network of natural and semi-natural elements providing ecological, economic, or social benefits for humans and other species, ranging from urban forests to community gardens, parks to green roofs, and coastal vegetation to riparian corridors Despite recent progress, it remains challenging for urban decision-makers to incorporate the benefits of natural infrastructure into urban design and planning. Here, the authors present an approach to support the greening of cities by quantifying and mapping the diverse benefits of natural infrastructure for now and in the future.
The approach relies on open-source tools, within the InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs) software, that compute biophysical and socio-economic metrics relevant to a variety of decisions in data-rich or data-scarce contexts. Through three case studies in China, France, and the United States, the authors show how spatially explicit information about the benefits of nature enhances urban management by improving economic valuation, prioritizing land use change, and promoting inclusive planning and stakeholder dialogue. The authors discuss limitations of the tools, including modeling uncertainties and a limited suite of output metrics, and propose research directions to mainstream natural infrastructure information in integrated urban management.